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North Carolina editorial roundup

July 12, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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July 9

The News and Observer of Raleigh on how lawmakers should study dogfighting and assess state law under which fighting dogs are subject to euthanasia:

Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states because the blood sport — usually accompanied by heavy wagering — is cruel to dogs. Yet in North Carolina most dogs rescued from such operations face an even harsher fate. Those that show scars and wounds from fighting are deemed dangerous and usually euthanized.

Executing the victims is a paradox at the center of an Orange County dog fighting case that raises questions about whether the state’s law is too rigid and what options might be available to spare fighting dogs.

The case and its issues were described in a recent report by Christy Kuesel of The Durham Herald-Sun. The case began with a drug raid on a Rougemont property March 2. Authorities found 30 pit bulls as well as fighting pit and animal records.

The dogs’ owner, Daniel Isiah Crew Jr., was arrested a month later on multiple counts of dogfighting and cruelty to animals. The dogs have been held since at the animal shelter in Chapel Hill as evidence.

Under state law, all the fighting dogs are deemed “dangerous dogs” and subject to being euthanized. But municipal and county governments are free to adopt their own programs for controlling dangerous dogs. That’s what happened in this case.

Orange County Animal Services and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals jointly evaluated the dogs. Eight have been found suitable to be spared and adopted.

Dr. Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, said, “The ASPCA believes that all dogs, including dogs seized in suspected dogfighting cases, should be viewed as individuals and carefully evaluated to determine the most appropriate and humane course of action.”

However, she added, that not all dogs can or should be saved. She said, “Some dogs exhibit highly aggressive behavior and we feel humane euthanasia is an unfortunate but necessary step to safeguard the public and end the suffering of these animals, who have been exploited by individuals for personal, criminal gain.”

That is a humane approach, but not one without risks. Euthanizing dangerous dogs isn’t necessarily heartless. It’s intended to protect people and other dogs. And eliminating dogs trained to fight can be seen as part of the price of cracking down on dogfighting itself.

Nonetheless, there is evidence that such dogs can be trained to be safe companions. The ASPCA evaluated 49 dogs involved in the dogfighting case of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick and found that all but one could be safely adopted or kept under animal sanctuary conditions.

Bob Marotto, director of Orange County Animal Services, said his agency’s experience with assessing the 30 dogs has shown the need for more flexibility in determining whether a dog is dangerous.

“This experience has certainly prompted me and others to wonder whether or not North Carolina’s dangerous dog law could be written in s way that is not so damning for dogs that come out of these circumstances,” he said.

Orange County authorities have gone to great lengths to prosecute dogfighting and provide a second chance for some of the dogs involved in the Crew case. State lawmaker should do the same. State lawmakers should study the extent of dogfighting in North Carolina — one of the top states for this vicious activity. Then they should assess what can be done to end dogfighting without ending the lives of its victims.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com/

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July 9

The Charlotte Observer on a Raleigh attorney who had been a registered Democrat filing as a Republican candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court:

Chris Anglin is trying to pull a fast one on North Carolina voters.

Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, is a candidate for the N.C. Supreme Court. Until June 7, he also was a registered Democrat. But when Anglin filed as a candidate at the last moment this month, he did so as a Republican. That means there will be two Republicans in the race on the November ballot — Anglin and incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson — a dynamic that could help the Democratic candidate, Anita Earls.

Republicans are crying foul and accusing Anglin of gaming the system. Anglin says he’s standing up “for the independence of the judiciary” — a reference not only to N.C. Republicans doing away last year with primaries in judicial elections, but years of what Anglin calls “assault” on the state and federal courts. To that end, Anglin coyly calls himself a “constitutional Republican.”

Problem is, many voters won’t understand that wink from Anglin, and many more won’t read or hear the back story of his candidacy. They’ll simply think he’s a Republican. Regardless of whether you agree with Anglin’s motivations, his maneuver is predicated on fooling voters. We think that’s wrong.

It’s also a mess that real Republicans invited.

Along with the law that eliminated judicial primary elections, N.C. Republicans changed election rules this year so that candidates could declare affiliation with a party right before filing for office (as Anglin did). Democrats have argued that both moves could confuse voters, lead to election shenanigans and result in candidates winning with only a small portion of the vote. In a federal suit filed late last year, the state Democratic Party also argued that without judicial primaries, the party would lose a way to let voters know its candidate of choice in elections.

N.C. Republicans say they merely want to open up the ballot to more candidates, but they’ve yet to explain what’s wrong with having primaries winnow down the general election choices for voters — or why it’s a good idea to eliminate primaries for judicial elections but not other elections. It’s possible that voter confusion is the goal, as it would allow Republicans to make a case that judges should be appointed by the legislature, something they considered but stopped short of doing this year.

After all, Republicans have been trying for years to make state and federal courts more conservative. They’ve changed this year’s appellate judicial races from non-partisan to partisan. They’ve redrawn the districts in which Superior and District court judges are elected. They adopted a proposal this year to ask voters to amend the state Constitution to allow legislative leaders to control what names the governor has to choose from when filling state court vacancies.

Why all the changes? In part, N.C. Republicans are tired of the courts slapping down their conservative laws that happen to be unconstitutional. So they want to game the courts by changing how the courts are filled. Now they’ve been outgamed by phantom Republican Chris Anglin, and once again North Carolina’s voters will lose.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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July 8

StarNews of Wilmington on amendments to North Carolina’s constitution that will be on the ballot in November and seem to upend checks and balances:

Thanks to tinkering by North Carolina’s General Assembly, voters this November will face a virtual book of a ballot, chock full of somewhat bewildering constitutional amendments.

Some are rather silly, such as the amendment to establish a constitutional right to hunt and fish ... except when the state says you can’t do either.

And some are simply naked power-grabs that will be bad for the state, regardless of which political parties are in power.

Case in point: the separation of powers amendment, which will gut parts of the N.C. Constitution that have stayed intact since its creation in 1776, six months after our nation declared its independence and threw off a yoke of tyranny.

Like the framers in Philadelphia, the writers of North Carolina’s constitution had a classic view of a balanced government, with checks on power intentionally established.

As we learned back in civics class, there are three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive administers and enforces them, and the judicial interprets the laws and serves as a referee. The three branches checked and balanced each other.

Now, unlike the U.S. president, North Carolina’s governor is relatively weak. Until 1996, Tar Heel governors had no veto power. Even now, it’s a relatively weak veto: it can be overridden by a 60 percent vote of the General Assembly, as opposed to the two-thirds vote required in Congress. To compensate, historically the governor had wide powers to appoint folks to various state boards.

We currently have a Democratic governor and a legislature that — thanks to the wonders of gerrymandering — has a veto-proof Republican majority. The GOP has been overriding Roy Cooper’s vetoes left and right. (Mostly right.)

Recent polling by the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute — a conservative think tank — shows Democrats running strong in North Carolina’s legislative races. And while Republicans will likely keep majorities in both the House and Senate, they might not retain veto-proof “supermajorities.”

So, the GOP leadership seems to be going for broke, trying to push through amendments that will basically turn the governor into an honorary figurehead and invest power in the legislature forever.

One amendment would strip the governor of his power to fill court vacancies. Then there’s the separation of powers case. Hidden in an amendment to reshape the state elections board is a provision that the legislature “shall control the powers, duties, responsibilities, appointments and terms of office of any board or commission prescribed by general law.”

That would include not just the elections board, but also the Utilities Commission, Board of Transportation, Environmental Management Commission and most everything else. The governor appoints those members now.

This would be a huge usurpation of power and would knock important checks even further out of balance. It would almost certainly require the legislature to be in perpetual session (increasing the Honorables’ pay and emoluments, perhaps).

Mainly, though, it would result in bad governance. Given this legislature’s tendency to draw up bills in back rooms with no public debate, we can imagine the deal-making and favor-trading that would go into filling these powerful board seats.

Environmental groups are worried, for example, that the current crowd would pack the Environmental Management Commission, the Coastal Resources Commission and similar boards with developers who’d twist the rules to favor projects on the coast regardless of the impact or risk.

Yes, it’s goodbye to those pesky checks and balances our founders cherished.

We cannot tolerate this. It flies smack in the face of the spirit and wisdom of everything we celebrated last Wednesday. Wise North Carolina voters should vote “No” on this one.

Online: http://www.starnewsonline.com/

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